By Associated Press - Wednesday, April 15, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A plan to expand access to medical marijuana won approval in the Democrat-led Senate on Wednesday, but the legislation is unlikely to move any further this year in the Legislature.

The Senate voted 26-19 in favor of the bill, which would make medical marijuana available to people with certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. If approved by a doctor, individuals could purchase marijuana products produced in Iowa and sold at state-licensed dispensaries.

The legislation now moves to the Republican-controlled House, where leaders have clearly shown little interest in the bill. Still, the legislation’s sponsor said the effort would help sick people in the state.

“Sick and suffering Iowans are asking for our help,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City. “Iowa’s elected leaders are the only people who can help them and their families.”

Republicans question how the program would be implemented and note that marijuana hasn’t been legalized at the federal level.

“Why isn’t marijuana an FDA approved medicine?” asked Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa.

Last year, the Legislature approved a law allowing some residents with epilepsy to use oil with an ingredient derived from marijuana for treatment. But the law did not establish an in-state program for the production and distribution of the oil. Critics say that as a result, the law is effectively useless.

A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and 11 others offer more limited access to some cannabis products, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures.

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